Black Footed Ferrets
The Toronto Zoo has been involved in the recovery program for the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) since 1992. Since then, the Toronto Zoo has produced hundreds of kits and animals have been reintroduced to the United States, Mexico and Canada. Genetically valuable animals are kept in the Species Survival Plan program for future breeding. This program is a high priority for the Zoo as we attempt to re-establish black-footed ferret populations across North America. Autumn 2009 marked the first Canadian release of black-footed ferrets into the wild -- the crowning achievement of the Canadian recovery program.
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Vancouver Island marmots
One of only six mammals endemic to Canada, the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) is a critically-endangered species found only on (surprise!) Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Their numbers have steadily declined over the past 30 years because of predation and habitat alteration. At one point the wild population dwindled to only 30 individuals making the Vancouver Island marmot North America's most endangered mammal. In 1997, the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Team determined that a captive breeding and reintroduction program was the only viable solution to save the species from extinction. In 1997, the Toronto Zoo received six wild-caught marmots to found today’s captive population. Captive breeding efforts have been very successful and captive-born marmots have been released into the wild annually since 2003. The wild population is now estimated to be 150-200 individuals. The miraculous recovery of the wild marmot population attests to the value of zoo-based captive breeding and release programs.
Polar Bears - Non-invasive Reproductive Monitoring and Pregnancy Diagnosis in the Polar Bear (T. Roth, M. Stoops)
Zoos are strategically breeding polar bears in efforts to develop a self-sustaining, captive population, and to educate visitors about global warming and wildlife conservation. Unfortunately, high neonatal mortality and poor reproductive success overall in captive bears threaten the genetic health and long-term viability of this species in zoos. Furthermore, population management by the SSP is particularly challenging because of the pronounced seasonality of this species and associated timing of breeding and cubbing seasons. In a previous study, the use of fecal hormone metabolite monitoring for characterizing reproductive function in female bears was developed and validated. The first goal of this research is to expand on previous work by adding male bears to the study. Because so few bears have given birth over the last two years, the database of pregnant bear hormone profiles is quite small. Continuous monitoring of bears in breeding situations will hopefully add data to the database in an attempt to achieve levels of statistical significance. This information hopefully will identify a means of distinguishing pregnancy from pseudo-pregnancy, so that zoos prepare accordingly for cubs or the next breeding season in a more timely fashion. The second goal is to begin monitoring male bears for testosterone concentrations throughout the year. This information is important to characterize the natural reproductive seasonality of males, to help determine if peak reproductive function in males is synchronized with the females estrus and mating behaviours, and provide some preliminary data on the potential effects of latitude and climate differences on male polar bear reproductive function. The latter could have implications for the impact of climate change on this species.
Polar Bears - Ongoing behavioural assessment (Dr. S. MacDonald, M. Franke)
Behavioral observations have been done on a regular basis since 2009 to assess how the bears have adapted to their new exhibit, and to each other. Activity levels (including mating behaviors, relative frequency of play and stereotypical behaviors such as pacing) are assessed.
Polar Bears – Olfactory Communication in Polar Bears - Implications for Conservation in the Face of Increasing Habitat Fragmentation (M. Owen, R. Swaisgood)
Polar bears are largely solitary and breed seasonally. As such, the need to find appropriate mates at the right time is dependent upon effective, and long-range, social communication. Intra- specific communication in the polar bear is not well understood. Theoretically, polar bears should rely on olfactory signals, especially during the early phases of estrus to locate appropriate mates. The goal of this research is to determine whether chemical communication may be an important part of intra-specific communication for the polar bear. Scent discrimination tests will be performed on captive adult polar bears and to test the differential responsiveness to male versus female pedal scents, as well as estrus versus non-estrus females. This study utilizes pedal swabs that have been collected from wild bears on Alaska’s North Slope. Samples will be presented to captive bears at a variety of N. American zoos. Bears will have olfactory access only to the scents and gustatory or tactile access will be precluded during scent presentation. Scents will be presented to subject bears in a plexi-glass “sandwich.” Data collection during scent presentation trials will follow methods developed and used in previous studies with polar bears and giant pandas. All scent presentations will be videotaped and behavioural responses will be decoded.
Polar Bear Provincial Park –Toronto Zoo ESRF
Support studies on Polar Bear health, status and determine the effects of global change on Polar Bear populations in the region
Monitoring Thyroid Function in Polar Bears
Thyroid hormones regulate elements of development, energy balance and metabolism in all mammals and have been important biomarkers for exposure to endocrine-disrupting organic pollutants in a variety of wildlife species and humans. In polar bears, there is a negative association between organic contaminants and thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones also reflect the nutritional status of mammals and are reduced during periods of nutritional stress in polar bears. Thus the measurement of thyroid hormones has the potential to reflect both exposure to organic pollutants and nutritional stress associated with climate-induced habitat loss. Unfortunately the collection of blood samples from wild animals requires capture. An alternative to blood sampling is the non-invasive assessment of hormones in the feces and urine.
These techniques are widely used by zoos and wildlife biologists to assess gonadal and adrenal function and allow repeated longitudinal sampling without causing stress to the animal. There have been no reports of using non-invasive techniques to monitor thyroid function in wildlife except for a recent report in tree swallows.
The objective is to develop an effective non-invasive method of assessing thyroid function in polar bears for use in field studies. Fecal samples will be collected from three captive polar bears to assess the effect of sex, reproductive status, season and stress on thyroid function. Fecal endocrine measurements in captive polar bears will be compared with those measured in wild polar bears.
As an addendum to the above project, the techniques currently used to assess adrenal function and gonadal function in other species for use in polar bears will be modified. This will be a graduate student project in collaboration with Dr. Suzanne MacDonald's ongoing behavioural assessment of the polar bears housed at this zoo.
Estimating Polar Bear Age
This project aims to determine how telomeres vary with polar bears of known sex and age, and why polar bear sex and age distributions are important to local Inuit hunters.
Telomere length measurement assays will be optimized using fresh tissue or flash-frozen tissue (provided by the Toronto Zoo) and tissue stored in anticipated field survey conditions (frozen at -20°C) from bears of known age. While fresh or flash-frozen samples will be collected from zoo animals, tissue plugs have been previously collected through a capture-mark-recapture survey in the Eastern Canadian Arctic and stored at Queen’s University. It is anticipated that the genetic techniques optimized through this research will be applicable to tissue samples (hair, blood, and faeces) that have been non-invasively collected by collaborators at Queen’s University and the Gjoa Haven Hunters and Trappers Organization in Nunavut. Determining Inuit perspectives of polar bear sex and age distributions will provide further insight into important parameters inherent to polar bear population dynamics.
This project will require 1 10mL fresh or flash frozen blood sample from each bear of the TZ. Previously collected and stored samples would suffice if they have been saved. If not, blood collection and sample collection would be performed by a TZ staff member when the bears are next anesthetized.
Polar Bear DNA Study
Characterize the DNA (genotype) of target animals (polar bear or rhino) by trying to characterize the DNA found in the facees of these species. Dr Ley at Cornell is trying a completely different genetic approach to help census these animals in the wild. Her approach is to amplify the 16S rRNA genes of bacteria commonly found in the faeces of these animals and then to sequence this piece of DNA. She asks if the sequences of these gut bacteria are different among individuals. In her previous work (Ley at al, Nature 444 p. 1022, 2006) she has shown that the sequences of the bacterial colonies in humans differ enough to allow the identification of specific human individuals from their bacterial DNA sequences, and applied this technique successfully to a variety of captive animals including rhinoceros and polar bear (Ley et al, Science 320 p. 1647, 2008). The good news about this approach is that the DNA of interest is in relatively high copy number and relatively undegraded in contrast to the gut epithelial cells of the rhino/bear. This makes the technique potentially more practicable.
While Dr Ley's lab has generated bactrial sequences from the faeces of the Javan Rhino and Polar bear, before we can determine whether this technique can be used to discriminate among individuals of our target species we need to run a few tests and we are requesting Toronto Zoos assistance. The gist of the tests, are to determine if bacterial DNA sequences are significantly different among individuals over time. To complete this assay we would like to collect samples from all your bears and rhinos once a week for six weeks.
REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS
In 1989 at the first World Congress of Herpetology, a global gathering to discuss the study of amphibians and reptiles, it became clear that frogs, toads and salamanders – animals that rely on wetland habitat for most or part of their life - were declining worldwide. At the Toronto Zoo, many visitors and local community members expressed their concern over the loss of frogs at their cottage, or the disappearance of toads that once shared their gardens. Eager to take action, a group of zoo staff formed an Amphibian Interest Group to promote water and wetland conservation throughout the Zoo. In 1991, Adopt-A-Pond was chosen as the name for Toronto Zoo’s Wetland Conservation Programme. The programme’s purpose was to engage families in identifying important wetland habitats and the creatures that these habitats support. Its first educational poster “Amphibians are disappearing - If you love to hear frogs sing, no-one wants a silent spring” was sent to over 1 million school children. With its early success in community wetland conservation, Adopt-A-Pond was awarded the American Zoo Association’s North American Conservation Award in 1997. Partnerships created through Adopt-A-Pond have resulted in the production of a series of unique Ontario focused reptile and amphibian identification guides, frog call CDs, and the Zoo’s first citizen science programme – Frog Watch Ontario. Adopt-A-Pond now maintains an expanded group of citizen science initiatives that include the Wetland Guardians Registry and Ontario Turtle Tally along with a wide range of conservation projects focusing on local amphibian and reptile species.
Turtle Island Conservation Programme (TIC)
Toronto Zoo's Turtle Island Conservation programme (TIC) respectfully shares the hopes and goals of First Nations partners in our commitment for the preservation of biodiversity. The programme celebrates culturally diverse and community-based approaches to conservation, recognizing that socially relevant programming is an imperative component to educating and motivating people to take action for the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat. The Turtle Island Conservation Programme has partnered with FN communities to develop culturally appropriate programming to protect and preserve community knowledge and significant natural and cultural landscapes since 2005.
Turtle Island Conservation programme’s objectives are:
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Turtle Tally and Frog Watch
Ontario Turtle Tally is a wildly popular programme that encourages nature lovers from all walks of life to report observations of turtles they see in the wild to an online registry at the Zoo, and this data, in turn, helps to implement habitat conservation projects and inspires participants to become advocates for turtles all across the province. Our work with Blanding's turtles is a great representation of how the Turtle Tally program has directly influenced turtle conservation through the input of citizen scientists. At a site in Southern Ontario we were made aware of large numbers of Blanding's turtles hit on the road through sightings from Turtle Tally participants. We were able to work with local landowners and the road authority to erect permanent wildlife fencing and improve a wildlife crossing under the road to help the turtles move under the road rather than over it. Toronto Zoo staff monitored the Blanding’s Turtles in the area for several years and not only found them successfully using the crossing structure but discovered that this relatively unknown population contained over 100 individuals. The information gathered through Turtle Tally is made available to a number of local conservation groups so that they too can use it to help turtles all across the province. Our staff visit communities to provide turtle identification training to those wishing to participate in the program.
Urban Turtle Initiative
Many of the turtles that live in our watershed are Species at Risk, protected by both Federal and Provincial legislation created to ensure their long term survival. Over the past 10 years, the Toronto Zoo's Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Programme has undertaken a series of research projects, as a collective entitled the Urban Turtle Initiative, to learn more about what species of turtles are in the Rouge Valley, where they are living, and how they use the landscape to survive.
During the Rouge Valley study we caught Painted turtles, Snapping turtles, Northern Map turtles and Blanding's turtles. To find out what habitats they were living in, we used radio telemetry to track their daily movements. By attaching a small (6-20 gram) radio transmitter to the shell of each turtle, we can follow them by "tuning in" to the radio signal emitted from their transmitter. Over the course of 10 years we radio tracked a total of 7 Snapping turtles, 7 Blanding's turtles, and 3 Northern Map turtles within the valley.
The turtles led us to their foraging areas, overwintering areas, nesting areas, and the travel routes in between. We found that the home range size for Snapping turtles was linear along the rivers, covering on average a 2 km stretch. Blanding's turtles moved in a less linear fashion covering an average of 15 hectares throughout the valley wetlands, while Northern Map turtles had an even larger non-linear home range size of about 25 hectares! Within these home ranges were a variety of habitats to suit the turtles different needs. Both Snapping turtles and Northern Map turtles spent over fifty percent of the time in rivers, while Blanding's turtles frequented marsh habitats most of the time, and pond habitats as a close second. One female Blanding's turtle moved over 2 kilometres up the Rouge River to a nesting site she used for three consecutive years! The Urban Turtle Initiative now focusses on the remaining population of urban Blanding’s turtles living in the Rouge watershed and uses this past information to make sure these remaining turtles have everything they need to survive in an urban environment.
Blanding’s Turtle Head Starting and Reintroduction
Toronto Zoo has begun the long term annual release of Threatened Blanding’s Turtles back into the Rouge Valley. Blanding’s Turtles were once abundant in this area but urban threats such as loss of habitat and road mortality have caused their numbers to dwindle. This project has been an enormous undertaking, involving the collection of eggs from nests laid in unsuitable conditions, incubating the eggs here at the Toronto Zoo, and raising the young for two years in our turtle nursery before finally releasing them out into the wetlands.
These turtles start their journey in agricultural fields, not far from the wetland homes of their parents. Our Zoo team is in contact with the farmers who let us know when they see mother turtles making their way through the fields in the spring. Staff visit the farms and walk through the fields, hoping to spot the mother turtles as they look for a place to nest. After the mother turtles nest, we gently collect the eggs and transport them back to the Toronto Zoo where they are incubated in our turtle nursery. If these eggs were left in the fields, they would be plowed over or the quick growing corn would shade out the nests, not allowing them to warm up enough to incubate and hatch successfully.
Back at the Zoo, these eggs incubate for approximately two months under the watchful eye of our wildlife care staff. Once the eggs hatch, they spend the next two years in the nursery under optimum conditions to help them grow big and strong for release. A few months before release, they are moved from the nursery to outdoor enclosures where they experience daily temperature and weather variations, are introduced to live food acclimate to the natural seasonal light cycle, and refine their natural behaviours.
We release approximately 50 young Blanding’s Turtles back into the wild each spring. To keep informed of their activities we attach tiny radio transmitters to their shells. We continue to monitor them as they interact with their new environment and undergo important milestones such as migration and hibernation. The information gained from monitoring these turtles will help to inform us about their habitat requirements and what we can do to ensure they are continually provided with suitable areas to live.
Wood Turtle Head Starting
The Toronto Zoo has been assisting the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry with the conservation of the Wood Turtle in Ontario for several years. These turtles are highly prized by poachers and now exist only in very small numbers in the province. Ministry staff monitor the Wood turtles in their natural habitats and collect their eggs, which are raised in captivity as part of a head-starting program. As with all turtles, the young have an extremely high mortality rate due to environmental pressures. They bring the young turtles to the Zoo where we raise them for 2 years before releasing them back into the wild. Once released, the turtles are monitored through the use of radio telemetry equipment to learn more about their behaviour and the overall success of such programs.
Population Investigations for the Endangered Blanchard’s Cricket Frog
The Blanchard’s Cricket frog is an endangered species in Canada, although there have not been confirmed sightings since the early 1970’s. Efforts are underway to verify the presence or absence of this species in its last known location in Canada and investigate the possibility of reintroduction. Toronto Zoo has teamed up with the Pelee Island Bird Observatory to install a series of audio recorders that turn on each evening to record the sounds of calling frogs from several wetlands. These recordings are used to verify the absence of Blanchard’s Cricket Frog calls and verify the presence of other amphibians in the area. Toronto Zoo has also mapped potential wetlands that would be suitable for Blanchard’s Cricket Frogs should a reintroduction program become a viable option to re-establish this species within its historical Canadian range.
Wetland Guardians Registry
Our Wetland Guardians registry provides an informational resource for individuals and groups who are interested in wetland stewardship. This online database allows individuals and communities to share their experiences with wetland stewardship activities so that others may learn about how wetlands are being saved throughout Canada. If you have undertaken stewardship activities in a local wetland we encourage you to register your wetland and help others by providing details on how you completed your stewardship projects, for example by sharing partner organizations, innovative approaches, or general advice. Those who are looking for information on stewardship ideas can search the registry to see what others have done and how to get started on their own projects.
Wetland Evaluations and Management Guidelines for Landowners
The Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond Programme is expanding our Wetland Guardians project to help landowners learn more about their wetlands and the wildlife that rely on them. We work with landowners who provide habitat to Species at Risk reptiles and amphibians in Ontario. Adopt-A-Pond staff certified in the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System, visit with landowners to help determine the quality of a given wetland. Wetlands that are evaluated by this system are assigned a point value based on their features and importance in the local landscape. When a wetland is evaluated, we provide an evaluation report which can be submitted to the Ministry of Natural Resources for consideration as a Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW). The area in which a qualifying PSW is located is protected from development that would negatively affect the wetland. We also provide the landowner with habitat management guidelines that support the local species found on the property and advise the landowner on ways to maintain or enhance the habitat.
Raising Awareness about the Western Chorus Frog
The Western Chorus Frog lives throughout Southern Ontario but its numbers have been declining in the Eastern portion of its range. To assist recovery experts in learning more about the Western Chorus Frog, Adopt-A-Pond staff visit landowners to determine the presence or absence of this frog on their property. Advice is provided on improving habitat for the Western Chorus Frog and understanding its role in the environment. Audience specific guidelines on habitat enhancement are left with landowners to help them in implementing projects to benefit the Chorus Frog. If Western Chorus Frogs are suspected but now found during the visit, we provide landowners with audio recorders to place in the wetland which will record frog calls to verify the species present.
Wetland Restoration on the Toronto Zoo site
A partnership between the Toronto Zoo's Adopt-A-Pond Programme and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority to restore wetlands for wildlife in the Rouge River Valley has been ongoing since 1999. Adopt-A-Pond has mapped and ground-truthed 192 existing and potential wetland sites in the Rouge River watershed, and has been working with TRCA to implement wetland restoration projects based on a priority-ranking system. This project involves work at a number of different wetland sites along the Rouge River. The most intensive undertaking of the project is dredging and re-contouring the shorelines of three permanent ponds and six ephemeral ponds to create deeper and more diverse wetland habitat. These wetland areas also require the removal of invasive Phragmites australis plants from the wetland areas and adjacent uplands. After removal of invasives, native species will be planted along the shorelines of the ponds. To directly assist wildlife, 2 turtle nesting sites adjacent to the largest pond will also be created. This project also involves community groups in restoring the ponds through volunteer planting events, invasive species removal projects and turtle nesting site creation projects.
Habitat Enhancement for Reptiles and Amphibians
The Adopt-A-Pond team has years of experience in creating and improving habitat for reptiles and amphibians. We provide personalized assistance to landowners who are interested in taking stewardship action on their own properties. This includes helping with professional advice towards building turtle nesting beaches, snake hibernaculums and restoring wetlands and shorelines. We also help communities get turtle crossing signs and snake crossing signs installed in areas with high reptile road mortality.
World Turtle Day School Challenge and Turtle Outreach
World Turtle Day is celebrated on the 23rd of May each year. The Toronto Zoo raises awareness of the threats to turtles by including local schools in special on-site activities. Classes learn about turtles and create turtle models from recycled materials to send to su at the Zoo. These turtle models are then put on display for World Turtle Week, when visitors have a chance to vote for their favourite turtle model. The class with the most votes gets a special experience to learn about turtles at the Zoo while all participating classes get a visit from the Adopt-A-Pond staff to teach them about Ontario’s local turtles. During the fall months we also visit classrooms within the GTA to teach children about the threats turtles face and how they can help. We always encourage classes to participate in Ontario Turtle Tally, to help them discover the turtles that live in their own communities.
Toronto Zoo's Adopt-A-Pond Programme is the Provincial Coordinator for the Canada wide Frog Watch program, now nationally led by the University of Ottawa. This programme monitors amphibian population health throughout the country and uses the information to educate research on long term climate change among other things. This program takes place throughout Canada and we also work closely with volunteers to provide species identification training to help familiarize people with their local frog species.
Everyone that submits a sighting to Turtle Tally or Frog Watch is invited to a day at the Zoo every autumn which includes hearing presentations from researchers working to save reptiles and amphibians in Ontario and a chance to learn more about the reptile and amphibian conservation projects happening at the Zoo.
New tools for amphibian monitoring: Establishing environmental DNA (eDNA) as a means of monitoring amphibians in Ontario
A new method for surveying amphibians that uses the detection of genetic material from sloughed cells and other waste material in water is becoming an important tool in species assessment in aquatic environments. This type of environmental or extracellular DNA (eDNA) is being used to detect and quantify the presence of animals even several weeks after amphibians have left wetlands. Toronto Zoo has partnered with researchers from Trent University, McGill University and Laurentian University to test this new tool here in Ontario. We will be sampling known occurrence locations for at-risk species based on location data from our FrogWatch Ontario records. Because the amount of recoverable eDNA correlates with population abundance and provides high detectability, this new approach will help us conduct long-term monitoring and determine the health of amphibian populations.
Working Together To Save the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
The Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake is Ontario’s only venomous snake and is at risk of extinction. This snake is timid and prefers to move away from danger and avoid conflict. In addition, loss of wetlands and habitat fragmentation due to expanding human settlements and high road mortality are threatening the survival of this species.
The Toronto Zoo initiated the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake conservation strategy in the late 1980’s in response to increasing demand from the public for information about the species. At the same time, it was reported that populations in Ontario were in decline and becoming isolated. In 1991, COSEWIC listed the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake as Threatened and the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake National Recovery Team was founded. The team is a network of researchers, biologists, government and park representatives and zoo officials working for the species’ conservation. The Toronto Zoo was one of the team’s founding members and in this position the Toronto Zoo is able to contribute to the rattlesnake’s conservation through rattlesnake loans to conservation partners in Ontario for use in exhibits and public education and outreach programs. Through these loans, and Toronto Zoo’s own exhibit, zoo workshops and public programs, we reach many thousands of people with good snake conservation messaging that will benefit recovery efforts for this snake. Our snakes have been to the Ojibway Nature Centre in Windsor, Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre in Midland, Science North in Sudbury, the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve and Greater Georgian Bay Reptile Awareness Program in Parry Sound, Bruce Peninsula National Park and Killbear Provincial Park. Over the years, the Toronto Zoo has produced a variety of outreach and education resources including informative posters, snake identifiers and stickers intended to make the public more familiar with the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, and consequently, more tolerant towards the species. A newsletter, “Rattlesnake Tales”, no longer published, celebrated people who peacefully share habitat with rattlesnakes to inspire other people in Ontario to do the same. A Stewardship Guide provides information about sharing habitat with rattlesnakes and how to live with wildlife.
In addition, the Toronto Zoo contributes to the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake National Recovery Team with veterinary expertise and scientific research. We are currently collaborating with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, AZA zoos and private land owners to conduct long term population monitoring in southwest Michigan by participating in field surveys for the snake in hopes of better understanding its population dynamics (mortality, reproductive, and population growth rates).
Toronto Zoo is also working to determine whether and how translocation of snakes can be effectively used to mitigate the impact of highway construction throughout the range of the massasauga in Ontario by collaborating with Wildlife Preservation Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Laurentian University on a three-year experimental translocation at Pointe au Baril. The Toronto Zoo also provides recommendations for husbandry protocols of zoo populations to ensure their health and encourage breeding. Toronto Zoo manages our massasauga population using full scientific analysis that results in recommendations ensuring the long term survival and fitness of individual animals. We follow a comprehensive approach that ensures that our snakes have the best chance of fulfilling their conservation potential to facilitate recovery of threatened species by collaborating with many partners in Ontario and the US. We support conservation projects in the field, public education, professional training, scientific research. Our zoo rattlesnakes are also considered to be an assurance populations that may serve to augment or re-establish wild populations in the future.
The Toronto Zoo hosts “Living with Rattlesnakes” workshops twice a year, in April and November. Attendees learn about the challenges facing the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, the conservation efforts to save it, and how they can help. They become familiar with the rattlesnakes’ biology and behaviour. Guests also learn to identify the rattlesnake and other snake species that are similar in appearance. Some snake species are often misidentified as rattlesnakes and are killed by humans out of fear.
Prairie Rattlesnake in Grasslands National Park
The prairie rattlesnake is protected by the Alberta Wildlife Act and the Saskatchewan Environment Act in response to populations’ declines. In Alberta, the prairie rattlesnake’s hibernation dens are protected by law and are monitored yearly. Alberta Sustainable Resource Development has initiated research on the rattlesnake’s population size and distribution, hibernation dens inventory, and tracking rattlesnakes using radio telemetry to identify and protect critical habitats. In Saskatchewan, the prairie rattlesnake is protected by the Saskatchewan Environment Act. Remarkably, a concerned citizen initiated the production of a poster providing information about the species status in Saskatchewan, its identification, precautionary measures, and safety instructions. The poster was produced by Toronto Zoo in cooperation with local residents, businesses and Grasslands National Park. The poster was distributed to the public to raise awareness about prairie rattlesnake conservation and public safety.
The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
Toronto Zoo has supported research and public engagement for Pacific rattlesnake conservation in British Columbia. The Pacific rattlesnake can only be found in the Okanagan Valley in British Colombia. This species is protected under the British Colombia Wildlife Act. Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre of the Osoyoos Indian Band received Toronto Zoo support to engage local citizens in species recovery efforts, community outreach programmes and research.
Oregon spotted frogs
Toronto Zoo is working with the British Columbia Recovery Team for the Oregon spotted frog (Rana pretiosa) which is critically endangered throughout its North American range. It is Canada’s most endangered amphibian, with an estimated population of fewer than 340 adults in the wild.
Potential threats to Oregon spotted frogs and their habitat include habitat loss and degradation due to human activities, the presence of non-native predators, risk of drought and climate change, water quality, emerging disease and small population size.
Toronto Zoo has a breeding group of frogs in our Amphibian Rescue Centre (ARC) that supports the recovery team’s long-term goal to improve the Oregon spotted frog’s long-term chances for survival, prevent its extirpation, and to maintain or restore self-sustaining viable populations throughout its current, historic and naturally occurring range. The recovery team has an established reintroduction program and have release captive born frogs to protected habitat. Oregon spotted frogs have successfully bred at Toronto Zoo and we will be returning some of our offspring to British Columbia this year.
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Mudpuppy Conservation and Citizen Science: A Partnership Project among Zoos and Aquariums in the Great Lakes Basin
The mudpuppy salamander is found throughout the Great Lakes, and is an excellent bio-indicator of environmental health in freshwater lake ecosystems. However, very little is known about the distribution or abundance of populations living in the Great Lakes Basin. The Toronto Zoo is part of the Great Lakes Mudpuppy Education and Monitoring Partnership (GLMEMP), a network of zoos and aquariums around the Great Lakes basin, working with community-based organizations around the Great Lakes to engage citizens in a public information campaign and applied research study on the status of the Great Lakes mudpuppy. The partnership, which includes the Detroit Zoological Society, Buffalo Zoo, Cleveland Metroparks and the Zoo EcoMuseum in Quebec, engages community-based organizations and local stakeholders including schools, marinas, waterfront property owner associations, bait shops, conservation organizations, environmental organizations, chambers of commerce, tourism organizations and other lake-related organizations. Toronto Zoo has developed a citizen science reporting and monitoring page for mudpuppies at www.torontozoo.com/mudpuppy as well as posters and resources to solicit observations from the public. In future years this partnership will review historic records and conduct surveys at recorded historic sites and data deficient sites to determine mudpuppy abundance, distribution and behavior.
BIRDS & INVERTEBRATES
Eastern Loggerhead Shrike